During her first trip to an American casino, Northeastern international student Jingfei Cui quickly learned that conspicuously taking pictures of slot machines and card tables is a bad idea. Security guards approached her moments after she took out her camera, suspecting that she might use the photos to defraud the casino.
Fortunately Mike Beaudet, a professor of the practice who teaches investigative reporting at Northeastern, quickly explained that he and Cui were there to interview police about casino-related crimes, similar to the one Cui appeared to be committing.
The investigative reporting class spent the semester digging through crimes reported near the MGM Casino in Springfield, Massachusetts, where they found that 22 crimes were reported in the three months before the casino opened in August, and 76 crimes have been reported since. These included pick-pocketing, petty theft, and car burglary, in areas near the casino.
The students decided to seek out the data after they interviewed Lt. Brian Beliveau of the Springfield Police Department, who described the uptick in crime as a “natural consequence of opening this type of facility,” but said he did not think the casino posed a significant threat to the neighborhoods nearby.
Beaudet also spoke with Gayle Cameron of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, who said that the city will develop new strategies to address the casino’s effect on crime after a comprehensive report is released within the next few months.
The story aired on WCVB-TV in November, Boston’s ABC affiliate news station, where Beaudet is also a reporter, and credited Northeastern students for their contributions to the report. Despite the class’s thorough research, Beaudet acknowledged that this investigation is only a small fraction of a larger story about casino-related crimes.
“From a journalism perspective, it’s a good lesson for the class to learn,” Beaudet said. “Sometimes the story you’re reporting is just a snapshot of what’s really going on.”
Beaudet treats the classroom like a newsroom, and assigns each of the five students taking the course a different aspect of the reporting, including entering data, researching police reports, and cold-calling officials. Since he started teaching the course in 2015, his students have produced more than a dozen investigations that have aired on WCVB-TV and Boston’s Fox affiliate, WFXT-TV. Some of them have been published in The Boston Globe.
“The stakes are higher when you have to produce a legitimate story,” Beaudet said of his hands-on approach to the course. “The real-life pressure of having an assignment with concrete deadlines prepares students for a career in journalism.”
Ingrid Angulo, a third-year student studying international affairs, said the semester-long investigation gave her the confidence to pursue longer, data-driven stories going forward.
“The class taught me the intricacies of how to conduct interviews and how to really look through data,” said Angulo, who was responsible for contacting researchers studying the effect of casinos on crime.
Angulo also said that the investigation felt bigger than a mere class project, because she was able to uncover facts and inform citizens in real time.
“I think that’s what we all want,” Beaudet said, “to produce a story that could potentially make an impact.”
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